Antarctica has its wildlife, its sweeping vistas, its stormy seas… and it has its little beauties. Through glacial ice, sunlight refracts out the most intense blue you can imagine. Cotton and Sisse, the National Geographic photographers on board the Orion, talked about the color of Antarctica in photography. They play with the fact that so very much of the landscape here is blue: water, sky, fog in the dim light of dawn, and, of course, the ice. Snowfall year after year forms glaciers, moving rivers of accumulated ice… glaciers crush all the air out of that ice, every air bubble that makes normal ice look white, and leave compacted masses of deep blue frozen water.
With all that snow and ice and cold, cold color, it’s easy to lose sight of the real depth of the landscape. There’s a lot you can do with the washed-out bleak look, but my favorite photos from the trip are ones in which the blue is featured, not as a chilly background, but as a glow like the piece of ice above, or even better, broken by little spots of bright color.
Our orange parkas really helped in that endeavor. We stick out against that background, tiny orange people against the overwhelming blue-gray of this glacier on Elephant Island. As an expedition with a thematic tie to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s epic journey a century ago, it was an especially poignant sight- Elephant Island served as a camp for Shackleton’s men for bleak, blue months while their leader and a few others crossed a perilously rough stretch of water in essentially a rowboat. Our hardy zodiaks and their brightly-colored contents would have been a welcome sight for those men. I hope that when they were rescued four and a half months after they watched their last hope sail away, the Chilean ship Yelcho that picked them up was flying some good colors. But maybe by then they’d really come to appreciate the true beauty of the blue.